ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – You’d be tempted to title the story something like, “The Old Man at the Old Course.” The only thing is, something about the British Open in general, and St. Andrews specifically, rejuvenates Mark Calcavecchia.
That’s why he’s here for the mid-summer classic for a 24th consecutive July and for a fifth time at the Old Course.
“I love the tournament,” Calcavecchia said, though he concedes his third trip still stirs the greatest emotions. That playoff win at Royal Troon against Wayne Grady and Greg Norman not only resonates, it’s why he’s here at the age of 50, a past champion with an exemption and priceless stature.
“That was a long, long time ago,” Calcavecchia said. “Almost like another lifetime.”
Twenty-one years removed from that Claret Jug, the newest member of the Champions Tour is threatening to win another. OK, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, since Calcavecchia’s 5 under 67 – his best British Open score at the Old Course – still left him five strokes behind the clubhouse leader, Louis Oosthuizen. But as he stood in the afterglow of his morning round, he could at least say he was in the hunt.
Truth be told, however, in typical “Calc fashion,” he seemed just as happy about being done for the day, even though it wasn’t much past 10:30 a.m.
“The (Royal & Ancient) is nice enough to know that I like to play fast and they certainly know I’m not going to hold anybody up,” Calcavecchia said.
Off at 6:30 with Peter Senior and Anders Hansen, Calcavecchia struck the first tee shot of Round 2, had five birdies in a bogey-free effort, and could head for lunch knowing he had roared up the leaderboard. Tied for 46th after Thursday’s 70, Calcavecchia signed his card knowing he was alone in third, with blustery, more challenging weather on the way.
That aspect of the picture hardly stirred any reaction from Calcavecchia; not because he didn’t care, but because he’s been a part of so many British Opens he knows full well that it’s always the story here.
Which is why Calcavecchia stopped reporters short from trying to say he had been on the bad end of the draw. Thursday afternoon, he said, was rough only when compared to the morning’s placid conditions, “but it was respectable weather,” Calcavecchia said.
He awoke Friday at 4:30 a.m. to steady rain, played a few holes in calm conditions, made his way along the front nine in whipping winds, tossed mittens on by the back nine, and faced heavy downpours.
“Saw a little bit of everything,” Calcavecchia said.
The fact that more furious wind was on the way brought a mere shrug of his shoulders. “Hey, it’s just part of the (championship),” he said.
He had held to a similar belief two years ago at Birkdale when the morning wave Thursday was greeted by a massive rainstorm, with roaring wind. “Played my ass off to shoot 6 over,” Calcavecchia said.
The weather was so bad, Calcavecchia that day refused to let his wife, Brenda, caddie for him. “I got out there, found some old guy (to carry the bag). Didn’t even go to the range. That was horrendous. It didn’t stop raining until the 18th tee box.”
Calcavecchia missed the cut that year, but it doesn’t put a dent in his love for the championship. He missed the cut in his first Open Championship at St. Andrews (1990), but was T-24 in 1995, T-26 in 2000, and T-60 in 2005. Nothing spectacular, but he does have fond memories of success at the Old Course.
At the Dunhill Cup in 1989, “I kept pounding one of the Meshiais (Hajime, to be exact) into the ground. Kept throwing 66s at him. He wasn’t too happy.”
Indeed, Calcavecchia shot 66-67 on that final day, made 12 birdies and an eagle, and won by seven to provide the margin of victory for him, Curtis Strange and Tom Kite over Japan.
He feels a kinship with the championship and indicated he knew why. “I’ve been feeling ancient and royal for a long time,” Calcavecchia said.
Having turned 50 June 12, Calcavecchia now plays on the Champions Tour. His debut reacquainted him with old friends . . . which brought a new perspective to Calcavecchia.
“I really do feel outstanding compared to a lot of those guys,” Calcavecchia said.
He felt even better after breaking 70 for just the second time in 16 British Open rounds at St. Andrews, each step of the way cheered on by Brenda. With the weather better, she’s carried the bag, and when that topic of conversation came up, Calcavecchia reminded one and all why he’s been a breath of fresh air for more than 25 years.
“We have fun together, most of the time,” Calcavecchia said. “The times we don’t, it’s entirely my fault.”
As for the money that could come his way should he play this weekend and next week at Carnoustie in the Senior British Open, Calcavecchia said it could be put to good use.
“We just built a mansion with a two-lane bowling alley in Jupiter, Fla., so there’s plenty of ways to spend it. It’ll take me the rest of my life to pay for it.”
Speaking of Brenda, Calcavecchia was asked if she could double-dip, so to speak; you know, gain access to both the caddies’ marquee and the family hospitality tent.
“Absolutely,” he said. “In fact, I think she’s down there now at the caddie’s place to get her 15 pounds of free food stamps so all our friends can start drinking.”
He looked at his watch.
“Almost 11,” he said. “Time for lunch.”